I wasn’t expecting The Woman In Black to qualify for The Shortening, but here I go out to the theaters on Friday night like any old civilian and what do I get?
5’6 leading men
Monkeys shaking maracas
Insert press tag on hat and venture forth!
Quick Plot: A silent prologue follows three precious Victorian girls having a tea party with an assortment of horrifically wrong-looking dolls. Oh, and that’s not even the freaky part. Without a word, the triplets arise to leap out the window.
Flashing forward to the movie’s later Victorian present, the widowed lawyer Arthur Kips (Radcliffe) is heading on a business trip from his young son. WIth his career in jeopardy, Arhur heads to a far-off marshy town where all the locals spout ominous warnings about the abandoned home Kips will have to enter.
It’s not easy. Arthur’s late clients lived in a mansion across the village with the route dependent upon the marshy tide. Years earlier, their young son drowned in a tragic carriage accident. Ever since, the town has seen a rash of mysterious child deaths--suicides, perhaps--and the legend of the titular Lady In White--
Damnit. You know what I meant.
Kips does his best to sift through mounds of paperwork amid the eerie house noises, but once the nursery’s menagerie of music boxes, clowns with cymbals, and monkeys--so many, many monkeys--gets partying, it’s hard to ignore the whole “this house is haunted by dead children and the really pissed off woman that killed them” thing.
On hand to help is Julius Caesar himself, Ciaran Hinds as Daily, a wealthy local mourning the death of his own long-lost son. Skeptical of superstitions, Daily cares for his crazy-with-grief wife who sometimes channels the lost spirit of their child.
Between medium sessions, fog-covered cemeteries, and Changeling-ish wheelchairs, The Woman In Black is an enthusiastically hard-working film. Director James Watkins embraces the Hammer mystique full-force, never winking at the audience or downplaying the fairly horrific dead child weight that hangs on so many key scenes. It’s an important choice because unlike so many other ghost stories that seem so pent on righting the original wrong, The Woman In Black isn’t necessarily satisfied by sympathy.
One local girl drinks poison while another burns to death in a fire. Like an Elm Street without telephones for tongues to stick out of, this is not the place to be if you’re under 18.
And that’s easily one of the most effective tricks of the very effective Woman In Black. Arthur is sympathetic enough as a sad widower trying to hold it together for his son, but it’s more the idea that this unlucky town’s youth is constantly at risk whenever a stranger dares to stir its eternal ghost that really makes the film something sorta dangerous.
Amid dead little girls and suicidal mad women, it’s nice to find some surprisingly witty moments of humor lurking inside The Woman In Black. The jokes never detract from the scares but help to keep us amused by the characters for whose souls we’re already fearing
I absolutely adored the ending of The Woman In Black. On one hand, it didn’t wimp out with a happy Hollywood sing-off. At the same time, it wasn’t mean in scope. Yes, Arthur and his cherubic lil artist of a son do die—in what we imagine is a pretty gruesome manner—but they do so together, sparing either any further loss. It’s kind of bittersweet
THUS ENDETH SPOILERS
Ahhh, the plight of modern genre cinema sound design and its increasing predicatbility. There are a good dozen or so jump scares staged with perfect visual punch, but just about every one is heralded with ham-fisted music that kills its effectiveness
Although a few grays too young for the role, Daniel Radcliffe acquits himself quite well to his first major non-Harry Potter performance. It’s my fault entirely that I found myself constantly wondering how he could sort through all those documents without the aid of his wizard glasses
If dispatched to a haunted house on a job that will either make or destroy your career, quit dilly dallying with ghost hunting and get to the paperwork already
Postal workers are and have always been lazy jerks
When in doubt, cut to a monkey doll
If you're name is Daniel Radcliffe, don't ever take a train. Seriously kid, it's just irresponsible at this point
I liked The Woman In Black far more than I expected I would. That being said, this isn’t a revolutionary genre film—if anything, it’s decidedly Hammer and old-fashioned—and will probably be just as enjoyable at home with the lights off, where you don’t have to worry about cell phone jingles or popcorn crunching. I’d love to see the film do well in theaters if only to support this kind of moviemaking, but it opened to better-than-expected numbers so if you want to save your Alexander Hamilton for half the DVD in a few months, I won’t come back and tell your children to off themselves. That’s just tacky.